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Daily News - Friday, 15 June 2007

Fernandez leaves today
President Leonel Fernandez sets off for Brazil at 10am today. He will be making a stopover in Miami to take part in a set of activities and will travel on to Brazil tomorrow where he is due to meet with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Fernandez is scheduled to return to the DR on 23 June.
Trade with Brazil has increased in recent years, as reported in Clave Digital. The Dominican consul in Brazil, Dionis Perez says that Brazil exported US$260 million to the DR in 2004, and the DR exported US$1 million to Brazil during the same year. By the end of 2006, Brazilian-DR trade had increased to US$368 million. During that period Dominican exports doubled. Likewise, he pointed out that tourism is up, from 5,000 tourists in 2004 to 11,000 in 2006. The consul also mentioned the increase in borrowing from Brazil, totaling around US$400 million for the construction of two major hydroelectric dams and other projects.
President Fernandez's agenda in Brazil also includes a visit to the Universidad del Valle de Paraiba, ethanol operations, and to the Embraer aviation industry. The Dominican government is interested in purchasing Brazilian planes for the air force.

Call for shorter campaigns
Central Electoral Board head Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman has reiterated his belief that political campaigns need to be shorter and less expensive. Castanos says that this permanent state of political campaigning affects government's efforts to alleviate poverty and contribute to development. He advocated that campaign reform could be implemented in time for the 2008 elections. Castanos made his comments during the opening of the workshop "Electoral Campaign: Regulation and Control." Castanos is not the only voice in favor of campaign reform. PRSC president Federico Antun Batlle and Senate leader Reinaldo Pared Perez (PLD) both agree with Castanos. Last night Administrative Chamber head Roberto Rosario also criticized the nature of campaigning in the DR. Campaigning is being criticized for resorting to goods and money donations to secure votes instead of campaigning on the strength of proposals for the general welfare.

Puig won't retract statements
Environment Minister Max Puig says that he won't retract any of his recent statements on alleged corruption in a proposal for change in environmental legislation and vowed that he would talk as he feels is necessary. Puig won't take back his accusation that senators, especially Ruben Cruz (PLD-Hato Mayor), president of the environmental commission, and otheres are trying to change the laws on protected lands in return for financial gains. Although Senate head Reinaldo Pared Perez warned Puig to retract his statements, the minister refused. Puig remains firm in his stance but he has not yet provided any proof to back up his accusations.

Tourism numbers slow down
Numbers of air arrivals to the DR has stagnated so far this year, according to Diario Libre. During the first four months of the year the number of tourist arrivals grew by only 1.4% while hotel occupancy grew by a mere 0.1%. In April alone hotel occupancy was down by -0.7%. A report by the National Association of Hotels and Restaurants (ASONAHORES) indicates that tourist arrivals have decreased in five out of seven of the country's main tourist areas. The tourism sector is the country's largest single money earner and usually has an annual growth rate of 10%. During the first four months of 2006 growth in the sector was at 11.3%. Figures indicate that Dominicans who reside abroad made up 11% of the total number of tourists who came to the DR in the first four months of the year, a 4.3% decline. Non-resident foreigners who visited increased by 2.2% compared to a 12.3% growth last year.
Tourism receipts, nevertheless, have not declined, primarily because there is a real estate boom in tourism areas. The decline is attributed in part to the passport requirement enforced by the US government that reduced the number of US travelers that could on the spur of the moment fly down for a vacation.

Natural gas kits to be sold
The president of Linea Clave, the natural gas distribution company that began operations in May, has clarified that vehicles that install natural gas systems will pay for them. Ricardo Canalda denied that the government would be donating the kits, as announced by Industry & Commerce Minister Francisco Javier Garcia last week. The minister said that to encourage drivers to convert to natural gas, conversion kits costing US$700 each would be donated to some 22,500 public transport vehicles. The announcement was subsequently published on the Ministry of Industry and Commerce website. However, Canalda says that they have not received any government request to purchase the kits for subsequent donation.
As reported in Clave Digital, Ricardo Canalda said that the natural gas program is an entirely private effort, and explained that the company was offering the kits on two-year installment plans. Each time a user fills the tank with natural gas, an installment would be added to the payment. Each tank full of natural gas will run a vehicle for 180 kilometers. He said that consumers would make considerable savings, explaining that while a full tank of regular gasoline costs RD$1,220.9, the same tank with natural gas would cost just RD$419. He explained that the kits come with an electronic chip that will record the sale of natural gas and payment of the loan that will make up about 12% of the price of the fuel.
The company aims to convert 140,00 vehicles to natural gas. Canalda explained that they are proposing a selling price of RD$43 per gallon for drivers who do not take on the financing, and RD$48 for drivers who do. Clave newspaper reports that the company has an estimated 1.1 million potential natural gas users.

Shell denies accusations
The Shell Company is denying reports that fuel purchase invoices have been forged and adulterated. The company also refuted claims that Shell will not buy any fuel under the PetroCaribe agreement and that it is purposely withholding fuel in order increase gas prices. Shell claims that it is the victim of a smear campaign and reaffirmed its commitment to the Dominican public. Shell says that it will continue to do what it can to prove that the accusations are false.
As a result of the accusation the Department for the Prevention of Corruption (DEPRECO) has begun a full investigation. Yesterday DEPRECO head Octavio Lister visited the Dominican Petroleum Refinery (REFIDOMSA) offices and received the first set of documents that will be used in the investigation. The Chamber of Accounts will also be investigating the accusations into the alleged invoice fraud. Lister says that Attorney General Radhames Jimenez told him to investigate after Listin Diario published a report by REFIDOMSA executives that revealed the alleged invoice fraud. Lister, commenting on the report, said that this is the result of an internal investigation by REFIDOMSA executives. Lister said that in recent weeks Dominicans have experienced an increase in gas prices and that the fraud case has to deal with a company that is in business with the government. Lister said that if any irregularities are found, those responsible would face justice.

Central Bank recapitalization
The Chamber of Deputies has approved a plan for the recapitalization of the Central Bank. The Bank will receive a bond worth RD$320 million to cover its quasi-fiscal deficit. The recapitalization of the bank is part of the DR's Stand-by arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

IDB asks for loan approval
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) representative in the DR Moises Pineda has asked Senate President Reinaldo Pared Perez to ratify a loan for the Social Reform Program by 30 June. Pared Perez said that the loan, for US$150 million, will be moved on to the agenda for this coming Tuesday. The loan, if approved, will be paid out in three separate installments.

DR needs agreement with Caricom
The Dominican Republic must come to a consensus with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in order to proceed towards an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU). Juan Giulliani, head of negotiations at the Foreign Ministry, explains that the EU has offered a detailed list of goods that can enter the entire region without tariffs. The list of excluded items could be considered flexible, but the Caribbean nations are arguing about the items on the list. The agreement should be fully negotiated by September, for it to be implemented in January 2008 as scheduled. Prolonged negotiations and standstills could push the date back an undetermined amount of time.

Metal exports exceed US$20 million
Eddy Martinez, head of the Center for Exports and Investment (CEI-RD) says that Dominican exports now exceed US$20 million per year. He says that this is due to increasing demand at international level. Martinez says that as a response his office is preparing a bill aimed at regulating the international trade in metals. He says that he wants to set a legal standard for metal collection. The Dominican Republic does not produce copper. Most of the copper that is exported is stolen.

Construction sector wage increases
The National Salary Committee (CNS) announced a wage increase for construction workers on Tuesday. These are due a minimum RD$321.60 per day. Classified workers will receive RD$352.80 per day. Helpers will receive RD$414.00, third workers will get RD$537.60, second workers will receive RD$613.20 and first workers will receive RD$766.80. Finally, masters will receive RD$966.00 per day.

Canadian cooperation projects
The Canadian Embassy has signed cooperation agreements with the Dominican government through the Canadian Local Initiatives Fund. This fund, working in conjunction with the Canadian International Cooperation Agency and the Canadian Foreign Ministry will support small-scale projects aimed at improving the political process in the country. Hoy writes that projects worth RD$4.7 million have been approved. Canadian ambassador in the DR Patricia Fortier emphasized the importance of cooperation and investment in developing the political process.

Korea donates equipment
The Korean government has donated 150 computers to the Education Ministry as part of an initiative that also includes skills exchange in the areas of technology and culture. This brings the total of computers donated to 400. The equipment will be distributed to different educational centers around the country. Education Minister Alejandrina German thanked Korean ambassador Byung Taik Lin, who made the presentation on his country's behalf, for the donations.

Revolutionaries get proper burials
A day after being honored by President Leonel Fernandez, and with the help of the three surviving 14 June movement members, the bodies of six revolutionaries were moved to the National Heroes Monument. At present, 133 national figures are buried at the monument. Although the identities of these last six bodies have not been confirmed, DNA tests are being conducted. Porfirio Rodriguez, head of the Heroes of Constanza Foundation says that even though their identities are unknown it doesn't mean you can't honor what they achieved. One of the surviving revolutionaries, Mayobanex Vargas, who fought to overthrown the Trujillo regime, recalled that "at times, Trujillo even controlled the Dominican people's breathing". The movement is considered a turning point for the subsequent overthrowing of the Dictator Trujillo two years later.

Buyers beware of fake Colgate
The Colgate-Palmolive Corporation is warning consumers about fake Colgate toothpaste that has been found at several discount stores in and around New York, New Jersey Pennsylvania and Maryland. The fake toothpaste is said to include a toxic chemical ingredient. The fake paste can be identified because it says "Made in South Africa." The packaging is also reported to contain misspellings like "isclinically" and "SOUTHAFRLCA."

Diaz looks for glory in Key West
Dominican swimmer Marcos Diaz is going back to Key West, Florida in hopes of achieving his second straight victory at the Key West Marathon. The swimmer, who won the event last year, is only the third swimmer to ever complete the race in less than four hours when he swam it in three hours and 54 minutes. Event coordinators are expecting a record number of swimmers this year.
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